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What is a Barrel Aged Condiment?
Barrels- Not Just for Wine Anymore
Better with age
If you like to cook, you know that there are some things that just get better and better with age. Fine wines and other kinds of spirits just don't cut it fresh-- the flavor that only time can provide is what makes the difference between a quick drink and a luxurious experience.
Cheeses that are properly aged also have a depth to their flavor that fresh from the cow can't compare. Aged meats are among the better, more expensive cuts.
Make way now for condiments-- something we all grab off the supermarket shelf every month but rarely think about. Considering how much we use our condiments for dressing up the flavor of our foods, we should probably start thinking even more about it.
Lately, the new buzz in culinary circles is choosing quality, barrel-aged condiments.
Barrel Aging Condiments
Think about it-- how much money do you spend on the good steak? You do your best to prepare it, grill it or broil it, make the perfect side dishes-- only to slather it up at the last minute with a supermarket bargain-brand steak or barbecue sauce that is essentially glorified ketchup loaded with sugar and MSG to give it flavor.
Barrel-aged condiments, as the name gives away, are aged in barrels to bring out the flavor in the ingredients. It's nothing new actually; in fact, there are foodies well ahead of their time. For nearly 150 years, since Edmund McIlhenny invented Tabasco sauce, savvy chefs have been aging various ingredients in barrels. Even better if the barrel once held a type of whiskey that was aged in it. In most cases this just adds yet another dimension to the finished product's flavor.
Between the charred oak wood barrel, the moisture and flavor of the whiskey, the tannins, the vinegar, salt and the natural ingredients in your condiments, magic happens. The aging process produces layers of flavor that are just not possible straight out of the manufacturer's vats. The barrel absorbs moisture and flavors, then the condiment leaches them back out again, and given enough time this process makes for quite a superior product-- a product worth of being slathered all over your foods that you work so hard to cook. This is a sure-fire way to impress your guests and indulge your food passions at home.
Real barrel-aged condiments are costly, but they are well worth it because the taste can't be beat. The good news is that they're so packed with flavors that you use them sparingly, so one container should last you a good, long time.
Lots of different types of condiments are barrel aged now, and Smithsonian.com warns you to get used to hearing about it-- it's likely to be the big food fad of the year, particularly when grilling season fires up.
What do you say?
Have you ever used barrel-aged condiments (besides Tobasco sauce)
Hot sauce was the first barrel aged condiment; as mentioned above, Tobasco sauce was the result of an experiment by a man who noticed how much better bell peppers got if you let them age, going from green to red to yellow. He barreled some of these peppers for three years to bring us hot sauce-- now you'd be hard-pressed to find a kitchen without hot sauce in it.
Lots of chefs and food enthusiasts are following in this line of thought, picking up the gauntlet and experimenting with this great idea that seemed to go overlooked for a while. Chefs are experimenting with barrels that they purchase from makers of spirits-- whiskey and tequila to name a couple.
Hot sauces are no longer the only sauces making their way into barrels. Fish sauce, barbecue sauce, soy sauce and a host of other sauces that have been sitting in barrels are hitting the scene.
Try a barrel-aged sauce for your barbecue, for broiling or baking, add a bit to your chili, marinade your chicken or fish in it or just put it out on the table at your next dinner party.
Barrel aged sauces to check out
Other Condiments Aged in Barrels
Savory sauces aren't the only things that are being barrel aged now. Savory-sweet syrups-- perfect when you're having 'breakfast for dinner' -- are getting the treatment. A bit of smokey flavor balances out the sweetness of this syrup for a truly divine dining experience.
One thing you might be surprised to hear about his sugar! Another great savory-sweet flavor, sugar aged in Burbon barrels takes up a hint of that aged liquor flavor to make it richer, darker flavor. A hint of vanilla adds to the flavor as well. You can imagine how great these are in your black coffee, tea, or even used for baking cookies and cakes around the holidays.
It's amazing that with all technology can do these days, people are returning to old-fashioned, time-honored methods and still finding them the best.